Maybe now is not the time to think about the end of this season, especially with the way things are going right now in South Philly. The playoffs are a certainty, another NL East title has been locked up by the Phillies, and another World Series title is well within reach.
It may not even be the time to think about next season, when Ryan Madson and Jimmy Rollins become free agents. So, why should we care about the end of 2013?
For one, Charlie Manuel’s contract extension expires. And secondly, the Phillies could lose out on a possible successor because of that.
Ryne Sandberg, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs manager, and now a part of the coaching staff of the Phillies until their run ends, is likely to become a coveted managerial candidate this offseason. And if not this winter, then likely in the very near future beyond that. It’s a problem because he would slide nicely onto Manuel’s stool in the dugout if Manuel were to decide to step away from the game after 2013. At age 71, it might be time for Uncle Cholly to hang ‘em up. At that point – especially if they win a title or two in the next couple of seasons – he’ll have nothing left to prove.
Sandberg himself really has nothing left to prove, either, which is why he’ll be a wanted man by many different teams quite soon. In 2010, Sandberg was the Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year with the Iowa Cubs, their Triple-A affiliate. He has succeeded at every level of the minors. All that’s left is to taste the majors once again.
Here in Philadelphia, unless Manuel unexpectedly steps down, there’s no chance in hell it’s happening. However, there is a way he could return to Philly and to the team that inexplicably traded him away in 1982, only to see him become a Hall of Fame second baseman. Become the Phillies hitting coach.
Last season, Milt Thompson got the ax after the Phils struggled through the middle months. Greg Gross took over, and while the offense has been much better than last year, many believe it’s still an underachieving unit – and one that is aging. Clearly, Gross has done nothing to lose his job, but he hasn’t exactly helped this club reach new heights offensively. If you want to keep Sandberg in the organization, it might be the only move to make. Or, the Phillies could flip flop the two; give Gross the managerial position at Lehigh Valley and promote Sandberg to the bigs. This is a preventative move to ensure a great mind like Sandberg does not head for greener pastures.
I’m not naive, I know this is highly unlikely, but if something isn’t done – if a promise isn’t made to Sandberg at the very least – then he could be a goner (especially with two Chicagoland teams likely looking for new managers). It’s likely he’ll head back to the Cubs or even take a shot with the White Sox. Plus, Ruben Amaro stated that he has extended offers to everyone on the coaching staff, Gross included. Either way, Sandberg probably won’t stand for being a bridesmade once again – and by that I mean coaching another Triple-A team.
I’m a believer that if/when Manuel retires, the Phillies should look within if the resources are available to them. With Sandberg running the hitting side of things, and Pete Mackanin involved as bench coach, that’s two fine candidates right there. This team is a close knit group that will continue to be as they promote good, young talent each season and stitch them into the fabric of this club. The old veteran crop will eventually make way for the youngsters you’ve been hearing about seemingly forever; guys like Schwimer, De Fratus, and perhaps, eventually, Dom Brown. With that, why not have their leader be a manager they’re familiar with?
The fact of the matter is, losing Sandberg would be a coup for another organization. The Phillies will have to get creative, and soon, to make sure he doesn’t leave…again. But don’t hold your breath.